By Lenore Skenazy . . . Even Zach Anderson’s probation officer wanted him off probation, but the judge ruled no. Zach’s one night of consensual teen sex means he still cannot live at home, drink alcohol, leave his county, or walk by a pre-school. He had hoped to get off probation on the 8th, but an early Christmas was not to be. Instead, the Elkhart, Indiana, 22-year-old will continue to live under probation’s strict rules until spring.
That means he cannot use the internet for anything other than schoolwork. He is forbidden to live with his family, as they reside near a dock, and children could — conceivably — gather there. He is not allowed to drink alcohol or make any purchase over $200 without pre-approval from his probation officer. He must be home between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m. every day. He is not allowed to “go or be” within 500 feet of a park, pre-school or municipal pool. He cannot leave his county without first obtaining his probation officer’s permission. Zach is also required to notify the officer of any dating relationship he pursues.
All for sleeping with a girl when he was 19 who said she was 17 (but turned out to be 14).
On Friday, Anderson appeared before Judge Angela Pasula in Niles, Michigan. His probation officer told the judge that Zach had done all that was required of him and even got good grades. For the officer, it was a slam dunk: Zach had served two years of probation already and now merited release. The officer had gone so far as to fill out the termination papers. (This is not to be confused with Zach’s probation officer in Indiana, who almost derailed Zach about a month ago. Details here.)
The judge said no.
Her reasoning, according to Zach’s father, Lester Anderson, was that she never allows anyone in Zach’s situation early release. Instead, Zach must earn his freedom.
Zach’s situation is this: When he was first tried for his crime — and the girl and her mother both pleaded with the judge to drop the case, arguing that there was no way Zach could have known the girl’s real age — Judge Dennis Wiley gave Zach 25 years on the sex offender registry, along with no internet privileges. But when his case hit the front page of the New York Times, he got a new sentencing. As the South Bend Tribune explains:
A revised sentence took his name off the sex offender registry and granted him a second chance under a Michigan law called the Holmes Youthful Trainee Act, which offers leniency to first-time offenders who are young adults. If Zach successfully completes the terms of his probation, he will have no criminal record and it will be “as if it never happened,” said Les Anderson.
The Andersons were encouraged about a week ago, said Les, when they received official word from the state of Michigan that probation violations alleged in October by Zach’s Indiana probation officer were dropped.
Those alleged violations could have resulted in his being put back on the Michigan sex offender registry, Les said.
But they didn’t, because they were so absurd as to be unconstitutional. (Zach’s “crime” was that he had unintentionally been in the presence of 17-year-olds on two occasions and had not reported this to the authorities.)
Zach would have been done with his probation by now, no questions asked, had he not “erred” back in January of last year, earning him an extra six months. And what was his heinous infraction?
He’d gone online to look up a filter for his fish tank, and how to build a skateboard ramp. As he’d been prohibited from using the internet for anything other than school work, the probation officer tacked on the extra six months to the two years Zach was already serving.
This time, though, that same probation officer was willing to undo those extra six months.
But the judge decided against him and Zach.
So now Zach will be back in court in April to see if he can finally get off probation. Of course if, God forbid, he Googles a fish tank filter again, or walks by a municipal pool, all bets could be off.